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Book Reviews

Deterring Armageddon A Biograph of NATO by Peter Apps is published by Wildfire

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has dominated US and European defence and security thinking since its creation. The twists and turns of the Alliance are inseparable from wider global history. In Deterring Armageddon veteran journalist and Army officer Peter Apps offers a biography of the Alliance and places it in wider context.

 

The text is extensive, brilliantly evidenced, and fascinating. It draws the themes of history forward offering a modern reader a succinct analysis in a compelling narrative. Apps’s writing style is entertaining and, more critically, engages a reader’s mind in what could otherwise be a dry topic. 

 

Historical scope

 

Deterring Armageddon places NATO in its historical context. The book’s seven sections cover its inception to the more recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. The final chapter draws the themes together to point to conclusions about the ‘NATO Century’. 

 

As a biography, the text is a one-stop book for any reader looking to learn about the Alliance. A reader with existing knowledge of NATO may think that they know it all already. Indeed, there is a case that Deterring Armageddon recounts the popular history of NATO instead of adding much new. This would be unfair. There is a focus on the major events, for sure. But they are major events for a reason, and we must understand them in order to understand the Alliance. Apps draws a reader through other, less well-known, moments and personalities throughout the text.

 

In any case, it wouldn’t matter if it was only a popular history. Deterring Armageddon is a biography, not a long winded niche history. It sets out the story of the Alliance giving a cohesive understanding of how and why the organisation acts. Apps’s ability to place history in context is the single most important strength of Deterring Armageddon

 

It’s not only a US history

 

One of the constant frustrations historians (and everyone else) face is a focus on the US and UK in the history of NATO. The French also get the occasional look-in, but generally with a narrative presenting them as awkward or difficult. Deterring Armageddon avoids this pitful. Any history of NATO must, of course, have a significant focus on US politics and history. But Apps draws out different perspectives and shapes how we consider them. His ability to balance the themes of the debate allows a reader to easily understand competing pressures and perspectives. 

 

For example, the role of Eastern Europe. It would be easy to see Eastern Europe as a passenger in NATO’s expansion, many do already and point to de facto US dominance. But Deterring Armageddon presents a compelling narrative of the region actively shaping Alliance expansion and decision-making. The text balances realpolicik, human interaction, and Russian pressure to explain ‘why’. Tales of boozy lunches to disciplined meetings align to add significantly to a reader’s understanding of NATO’s history. 

 

Deterring Armageddon is filled with quotes and evidence from those actively involved. This offers an insight into how nations interacted – be it militarily or politically – in reality. Like any good biography, the text lays out the different perspectives, allowing a reader to draw their own conclusions. Deterring Armageddon avoids ‘big hand small map’ analysis to focus on who did what and when. It’s interesting, readable, history.

 

What’s missing?

 

Deterring Armageddon is a monologue. Its 501 pages, however, could not possibly be exhaustive. There is little analysis of how NATO would wage war or modern concerns of interoperability. Indeed, the focus is largely on NATO as a political organisation. Perhaps reflecting modern scholarship, there is more ‘warfare’ in the latter chapters, but there arguably remains a gap in the literature concerning the development of cohesive (or not) NATO concepts and doctrine. A gap that Apps would be well placed to fill given his position as a (trail-blazing disabled) Army officer. 

 

Other areas of Alliance tension could also have received more. For example, the relationship between Greece and Turkey, or Turley’s arguably assertive/defensive/destructive, depending on perspective, position in the Alliance more generally. In current politics, the role of Hungary as a ‘trojan horse’ could also be mirrored to examples from earlier history to add a modern twist. 

 

This should not be seen as a critique. Rather, an acknowledgement that the history of NATO is extensive and fascinating. Deterring Armageddon sets the role of NATO into this context arming a reader to learn more. We finished the book feeling we had read more than a primer and had gained a deeper understanding of the Alliance.  

 

The Future

 

Perhaps the most interesting section of Apps’s text deals with his views on the future. Drawing together the themes of history Deterring Armageddon can see a world in which NATO ceases to exist. The election of an anti-NATO US President, dual nuclear confrontation, or perhaps a political crisis would be the cause.

 

However, Apps’s text allows a reader to see that the challenges of the NATO Century are not unique. US Presidents have questioned the role of NATO before, and Donald Trump is not likely to be the last. Like others, Apps’s identifies the weaknesses of collective decision-making. Whilst he doesn’t say it directly, he points to parallels between post-WW2 security arrangements and modern organisations such as the Joint Expeditionary Force. The role of NATO in creating and enabling security to rise or fall is expertly discussed offering a credible forecast for the future.

 

Should I read it?

 

We recommend it. Deterring Armageddon is history done well. Peter Apps’s ability to draw evidence together into a compelling story deepened our knowledge of the Alliance. Apps links the past to the future and the small moments of human interaction to global politics gave us historical and political context.

 

Deterring Armageddon is a brilliant biography of an Alliance that, for good or bad, shapes the modern security environment. Apps’s text is an important contribution to our understanding and the wider literature.

 

 

 

 

The Wavell Room Team

The Wavell Room Team are a bunch of enthusiastic individuals who believe strongly in constructive debate, discussion and openness in order to arrive at a sound, non-bias and informed position on many subjects.  The team are all volunteers and support this non-profit in their own time.

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